By Walt Hunter, Molly Daly and Diana Rocco
MOUNT LAUREL, N.J., (CBS) — Officials are on the trail of two bears covering a lot of ground in South Jersey.
The latest sightings have residents in Mount Laurel and Evesham keeping a close eye out.
That’s something residents of Winslow and Waterford Townships in Camden County were doing last week.
Police say a bear that’s been wandering through several South Jersey communities since last week has been spotted twice in Mount Laurel Monday.
Lieutenant Stephen Riedener says the bear was spotted by a driver at Mount Laurel and Church Roads around 9 a.m. then again in the neighborhood near Hainesport and Hartford Roads around 4:30 p.m. Local schools and neighbors were alerted, but there were no lockdowns or evacuations.
It’s believed the same bear was first spotted in Waterford Township last week and in Evesham Township Saturday and again around 6:30 a.m. this morning on Delancey Way.
“He was just right behind the trees and I watched him cut through the yard, and it looked like he was going after one of the bird feeders,” Ron Alwine of Evehsam said.
Ron Alwine took a video of their unexpected 300 pound guest as he walked through their Evesham yard Saturday.
“He was actually standing over just next to the garage, and then he was kind of working his way through the bushes over here around my yard,” he said. “You don’t always see a bear coming through the woods in your own backyard so pretty cool.”
“It was shocking,” Sue Alwine said.
There were also two bear sightings in Winslow Township last week, but it’s believed that may be a second bear.
State Game officials say because natural bear habitats are shrinking, black bears have now been spotted in all 21 counties. Also, officials say, because the fierce winter destroyed natural food, bears have had to forage in more distant areas looking for something to eat.
“We kind of like it as long as you know he keeps his distance and we keep our distance,” Adria Kelly said. “And I keep the pets indoors too.”
The Kellys out for a nightly walk noticed trash cans weren’t out on garbage night. Neighbors are all taking precautions and now they’re thinking they’ll keep theirs in too.
“I’m more worried about the deer than I am the bears, but I wouldn’t like to run into one,” Richard Kelly said.
Game officials say because the bear spotted in Mount Laurel has not caused any serious harm, they are not joining the search for him at this time, hoping he will find his way back to his normal habitat.
KYW’s Molly Daly spoke to a state environmental official about the sightings of the normally secretive animals, and why they’re causing a stir.
“I think, because, for most of us, the only time we see a bear is when it’s behind a gate at the zoo. Now, all of a sudden, that gate’s not there,” said spokesman Bob Considine of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Considine says most of the state’s 2,800 bears live in northwest Jersey, but they’ve been seen in all 21 counties, and it’s not unusual for them to travel in search of food.
“The Division of Fish and Wildlife is monitoring the situation, we’ve notified local police. As far as we can tell right now, this is just what we call a Category 3 bear exhibiting normal behavior,” Considine said.
Category 3 means it’s not a nuisance or threat to public safety. Considine says you can keep it that way by not feeding it. Bring in your bird feeders, and keep your garbage inside until trash time. And give the bear a reason to beat it back to the woods.
“”If you’ve got a bear sitting on your lawn, and he’s just not going away, maybe clang some pans or something, make him feel he’s not a welcome guest,” Considine said.
Considine says Fish and Wildlife Division officials are keeping an eye on the situation, but don’t believe the Black bear, which eats a largely vegetarian diet, poses a threat to the public.
“We don’t have a history of bear attacks in the state of New Jersey. If anything, it’s your livestock and your pets that are in more danger than you. And they don’t want to be bothered — they just want to eat something. So it’s kind of up to you to make them look elsewhere for food,” Considine said.
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